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Westbrook dance center prepares for Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

The dancers from Drouin Dance Center in Westbrook are learning their routine, and are ready to take their show on the road.

WESTBROOK, Maine — When you think of Thanksgiving, you probably think of turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. And in plenty of households on Thanksgiving morning, while the turkey is roasting, the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is on the television. 

One group of dancers from Maine won't be watching like the rest of us because they'll be right smack in the middle of Herald Square that morning. They're learning the routine, and are ready to strut their stuff. 

"Crazy. I was so surprised when I was invited, I was like, really? Me? It was just so crazy. I still can't believe it," Jada Poisson said. 

Poisson is a senior at Massabesic High School and a dancer. In about 10 days, she and 19 other dancers from Drouin Dance Center in Westbrook will be part of the 95th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. 

How does that feel?  

"Nerve-wracking, very nerve-wracking," she said with a laugh. "But at least I'll have other people here that will like feel the same way."

The road to the big parade started with a lot of hard work and practice in one of the studios at Drouin's. Danielle Drouin is the owner and director of the dance studio. At the end of this week, she'll travel with her dancers to New York City as they prep to be part of this enormous event. They hit the Big Apple the week before the parade.

The work begins as soon as they touch down. 

"They rehearse the minute we get to NYC, all the way through Thursday!" she said.

The first invitation for Drouin's Dance Center to participate in the big event came 10 years ago, and this will be the studio's fourth appearance. Dancers were supposed to take part in last year's parade, but COVID-19 restrictions kept most performing groups home. This year's invitation just barely came in, and Drouin's dance troupe has been preparing ever since.  

"We get the choreography, which we are rehearsing today. They'll be formation changes — there's three different colors of costumes in this year's parade so they'll change formation based on the color of their costume. It's like a mashup of songs, but all dancing the entire time," Drouin explained. 

The girls, along with dancers from all around the country, learn the specific parade routine at home and then join to put it all together just ahead of the big show. 

"Saturday night, they go in to rehearsal with all 500 dancers," Drouin said. 

The parade route is about 2 1/2 miles. It starts at Central Park West around West 77th Street, where everybody gathers at about 4 a.m. 

"It's much colder at 4 a.m. in the dark than it is at 9 o'clock for parade time so they're fully prepared," Drouin said, remembering parades from years past. 

Then, they walk the route all the way to Herald Square. That's when they perform for the television cameras.

Drouin is preparing her dancers for the whole experience. 

"It's about, I would say, over an hour or more of just walking and smiling and waving along the parade route," Drouin said. "They're just trying to time the performance for TV — they time to get to Herald Square, then they run in to place and perform — then they run off, they get on the subway and head back to the hotel, and that's it!"

Brooke Chason, a senior at Portland High School, will be one of the dancers on the trip and has been dancing since she was 4 years old. 

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was something you looked forward to years leading up to. I mean, like, I remember being little and watching the girls from past years go and just wanting to do it. It's going to be really challenging. Right now, we're in the studio and we just have — we don't have too too much room to do it crazy full out — but to go down into New York and incorporate so many other dancers in it? It's going to be crazy," she said. 

Crazy indeed. Drouin expects that about 60 folks will make the trip, as family members travel along with the dancers. The girls all raised the money to fund their trip — it costs nearly $2,500 per dancer for the week — to cover things like hotels, meals, and costumes. But all the hard work? Completely worth it. 

"It's really heartwarming, almost like you know to represent not even just our studio but the state, my school," Brooke said.

Jada added, "I'm very excited to meet all the different dancers. And getting to see other people and see what they've been taught at their studio and just like the different ways we've all been taught."

Drouin is excited for her dancers to have this experience. 

"It's so great to watch them have this experience and to enjoy every moment of the parade and the process and ... so many people have never seen it in person so to be able to say that they've performed in it is just amazing," she said.

If you've got the parade on your TV on Thanksgiving morning, keep an eye out for the dancers from Drouin Dance Center in Westbrook.

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade airs Thanksgiving morning from 9 to noon on NBC.

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